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17 May 2006 : Column 309WH—continued

Daniel Kawczynski: I must tell the Minister, however, that the raw emotions persist, and they need to be understood. Recently, the Polish Minister of Defence,
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Mr. Sikorski, referred to the pipeline and said, “We are very sensitive about German-Russian pacts.” That is not surprising, because the last one was the Molotov-Ribbentrop, the pact that carved up Poland. It is important for British Ministers to understand the sensitivities and emotions involved, because they exist and they are raw. As long as there are people still alive who lived under German occupation, or grandchildren of such people—like me—nobody should forget what happened back in 1939.

Germany intends to build a pipeline from St. Petersburg to Germany, which will bypass Poland and the Baltic states. That is outrageous. When I went to Warsaw, Minister after Minister mentioned it to me. They said categorically, “We are in the European Union, and the EU is all about a cohesive uniform strategy.” Even the EU energy commissioner has lambasted the Germans over the proposals. We are living in sensitive times when the Russians are turning off gas supplies, and when there is great sensitivity over energy resources generally. In that context, it is outrageous that the Germans can somehow ignore their neighbours and build a huge pipeline under the Baltic sea to provide themselves directly with gas and oil from Russia, despite being part of an EU that is trying to cobble together a pan-European policy.

That proposal goes against the spirit of the EU and against the interests of Germany’s neighbours, and Polish Ministers feel extremely strongly about it. When the Minister speaks, I hope that he will assure me that he will use his office and prestige in Europe, not to mention the respect within which he is held in Europe, to rebut Germany’s position on the pipeline and present a critique of it. If a country like the UK is prepared to stand up for Poland and say to Angela Merkel, “No, we are not prepared for you to go against the spirit of the EU in this way”, that would resonate hugely, not only in Warsaw but in capitals throughout eastern and central Europe.

I have spoken for some time, so I shall come to my second and final issue, which is the Katyn forest. This is the anti-Russian bit.

Stephen Pound: With some justification.

Daniel Kawczynski: Indeed.

Katyn forest is something that is very close to my heart, because my own family suffered in the massacre that took place there. During the 1939-40 invasion of Poland, the elite of the Polish military—the generals—and the elite of society were taken to a forest where tens of thousands of them were massacred by the Russians. They were ploughed down with sub-machine guns and killed. Stalin said that the way to control a country is by cutting off its head. He hoped that he could control Poland by destroying the elite of Polish society and the military generals.

The massacre was devastating to Poland, but even today—I recently had dinner with a gentleman whose parents were also involved in that massacre—the file on this issue has not even been opened. Many families are struggling to come to terms with the deaths of relatives and dear ones who were killed by the Russians in the Katyn forest in 1940. I ask the Minister to look into this issue. That will cost him and the Government
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nothing. I am not asking for money to be spent: I am asking the Minister to use the UK’s power and influence to put pressure on the President of Russia, Mr. Vladimir Putin, to open the KGB files on the massacre. That would resonate greatly with the Polish authorities, and would show them that we are interested in helping them to lay the ghosts of the second world war down to rest in peace, and in establishing a modern relationship.

I have outlined two important issues, which I hope that the Minister will address. I have been in the House for more than a year now, in which time I have tended to focus on my constituency—I try as hard as possible to focus on my constituency. However, it has been a great pleasure for me, as someone of Polish origin, to highlight the passion that I feel for Poland. I am passionate about Poland working with the United Kingdom, those two countries coming together, and building a new Europe together.

Several hon. Members rose—

Janet Anderson (in the Chair): Obviously, a number of hon. Members wish to speak, and I will try to fit them all in. We would normally move towards the winding-up speeches at about 3.30 pm but, with the indulgence of Members, I think that we can allow a bit of flexibility to try to get everyone in.

3.8 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mrs. Anderson. Before I make much of the truncated version of what I would have liked to have said [Interruption.]—I mean no criticism of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski)—I tell the Chamber that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) would certainly have wanted to be here this afternoon, but his mother died last week. I am sure that, as one of our few Members of Polish origin, he would have wanted to be present, and that, were he here, he would have had the sympathy of us all.

I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on securing the debate. He towers above many of his contemporaries, both physically and intellectually. I knew him well when he fought—extremely well—a neighbouring seat to mine in Ealing. His reputation followed him to Shrewsbury and Atcham, where it blossomed into the achievement that we see today.

The hon. Gentleman described, in effect, three Polands, the first of which is the Poland of the heart, which has always existed, even in the period of more than 100 years in which there was no such physical entity. At that time, there was no geography of Poland, yet Polish language, culture, tradition and literature thrived, flourished and endured. In every part of the world in which freedom was fought for—from south America to the Paris commune to the Caribbean—there were the Poles. Every war of independence and freedom throughout the 19th century saw a Polish presence. That says much of the Poland of the heart, which endures even in the dark days.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the period of military rule under General Jaruzelski, when a man such as Father Jerzy Popieluszko, God rest and keep
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him, could be taken out and murdered by thugs at the behest of the state, his body dumped in a river, and it was hoped that that murder could be covered up. Despite all that, the Poland of the heart thrived, endured and flourished.

The hon. Gentleman also described the Poland of a few years ago—of the heroes of RAF Northolt and the invisible community with which I grew up. I saw people every Sunday in my church community in west London, yet had no idea that they were Polish. It was not until 1966 that Father Kazimierz, one of the first Polish priests in London who the hon. Gentleman will remember well, was part of the Polish millennium celebrations, which coincided with the world cup.

I recall that in those days, many of my Polish friends anglicised their names, and I give so much credit to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for refusing to do that. There were so many Pawels who became Pauls, Jans who became Johns and Krystynas who became Christines. I give the hon. Gentleman much credit for his pride in his name. At that time, many of my friends started to wear Union jacks. I said to them, “It’s marvellous that you are all supporting England in the world cup”, and they said to me quietly, “Well, yes, but actually we don’t really want Germany to win”. That was honest.

The Polish community was one of the hardest working, most decent, almost crimes free communities that I have ever known. That community is a credit, and not only to our country or the major areas of settlement—one thinks of the huge Polish community in Scotland that has settled in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. In fact, I think that four people of Polish origin have played football for the Scottish national team, although not with conspicuous success, but perhaps that was because of the other seven players in the team.

In my part of the world—west London—we have been blessed by the size of the Polish community in terms of urban concentration. We like to say, “After Warszawa and Chicago stands Ealing”. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) was formerly a distinguished councillor in the London borough of Ealing—a political opponent of mine, morning, noon and night—but a man whose respect for the Polish community will take second place to no man. He is here to endorse that. There is a risk of our being slightly sentimental about the Poland of that period, but justifiably so because no one who saw the occurrences at the Lenin shipyard and the birth of Solidarity, can be anything other than emotional.

The important thing that we need to discuss is the Poland of today and tomorrow—the current Poland. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referred to the 350,000 Poles who have come here and the 204,895 who have registered to work. Not everyone is delighted with that; a number of my constituents have complained vociferously about it. A number of plumbers and bricklayers who I know have said, “This is outrageous; these people turn up on time; they work all day; they finish when they are meant to; their vans never break down on the north circular; they never have suddenly to leave for a family bereavement; and they finish the work on time and on contract. How can the honest British workman hope to compete against
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that?” I like to think that the spur of the Polish workers will actually raise standards throughout the work force of west London.

May I address a stereotype? The new figure—the Bob the builder of the day—is Pawel the plumber. People speak of Pawel the plumber as if Poles come to this country to work in manual trades only. For every Pawel the plumber, there is an Anna the architect, or a Krystyna the cardiologist. There are Poles at every level, including dentists, as has been said. That is absolutely right. We think of Dr. Jan Mokrzycki, who is president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. He is a distinguished dentist who took one look at my teeth and refused me an appointment.

We must recognise that Polish people have brought skills of all levels. However, it is important that the House recognises that there are tensions between some in the older settled Polish community and some of the incomers. On Sunday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Our Lady Mother of the Church on Windsor street in Ealing—a Polish church opened in 1986. It was a packed church which now has seven masses on Sunday and has been run marvellously by the Marian Fathers over the past 20 years. The conversation there has been very much about the new and the old Poles. I like to think that Poles are Poles, whether they are new, third or fourth generation. It is important that we place on record in this place our appreciation of and respect for our allies who have been with us, shoulder to shoulder, over the generations and centuries. It is intensely important to mention that.

We have some difficulty in that one of my constituents, Mrs. Gill Rodican, has recently complained to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis about notices printed only in Polish asking for witnesses to report crimes in Ealing. That is an example, I think, of insensitivity rather than of an inherent problem. I appreciate that it is not in the remit of my hon. Friend the Minister, but I shall certainly raise the matter with the commissioner, because if Polish on Polish crime exists and we need witnesses, those signs should be bilingual. They should not be only in Polish, because of the feeling of difference and strangeness generated, with which some people have problems.

Overall, Poland is now a major emerging trading partner with the United Kingdom. I pay credit to the economic and commercial department of the embassy of the Republic of Poland, particularly the Minister Counsellor Krzysztof Trepczynski, for the work that has been done, and to the Polish information and foreign investment agency which encourages that bilateral trade between us.

The UK and Poland are natural partners. We have a long history; we are family. We should be closer trading partners. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham entirely down his road, which leads to an alternative to the Franco-German axis. I like to think of a European axis, involving all the countries. However, I understand entirely where he is coming from, and appreciate and respect his view. However, talk of new and old Europe is not helpful.

I like to think of Poland as Poland—it has emerged from the permafrost and the dark overcast skies of the
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communist era and is only now stretching its sinews and feeling the strength in its muscles, and giving voice to the huge creative urge that sustained it during the decades when there was no geographical Poland. Now in every aspect of its life—industry, the arts and commercial activities—a new Poland is emerging. The hon. Gentleman referred to British shops in Warsaw, Crakow and Gdansk, and even in Lódz. They are to be found throughout over Poland. That is the relationship of the future; it is a relationship of equals, which was forged in the heat of war and has been tested by adversity, but ultimately it is a relationship between two nations, based, I hope and trust, on mutual respect.

I shall not entirely endorse the comments that the hon. Gentleman made about the pipeline, because I am not sufficiently well versed in that subject. However, I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to continue to support and endorse the activities of the British chamber of commerce in Warsaw and the British commercial interests in Poland now, and to make life a little easier for the bilateral trade and commercial relationship between the two countries, with which there are still problems.

Above all, I do not think that it is unfair to ask my hon. Friend, at this time, so close to the anniversary of the Warsaw rising, to go—if he has any doubts as to the awful reality of what happened at Katyn—to Gunnersbury park in west London and stare up, as I know he has, at that great black granite obelisk that lists the names of the cream of a country’s culture, slaughtered and stuffed in the ground. He will think, as I did, of two things: first, how Poland can never die. Where one Pole lives, Poland lives. No matter how many are slaughtered, that will never kill Poland. Secondly, he will think of the sheer length and breadth of that memorial column and the names and occupations listed.

I do not believe in debts of honour overriding everything, but if ever a country owes a debt of honour to its comrades this country owes one to Poland. Poland has suffered greatly. The United Kingdom and Poland can work side by side, shoulder to shoulder for a new, emerging, strong, commercially successful Poland, which will finally achieve the potential that every one of us knows lies deep within that rich soil.

3.20 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), whose powerful speech touched this House. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for what was a most impressive and wide-ranging speech. I shall be brief, and touch on only two issues. One is a general matter, and the other is a constituency matter relating to Poland.

I pay tribute to the members of the Polish community in Wellingborough. They live in the heart of Wellingborough, they are a most important section of our community, and they have their own Dom Polski club, to which I am kindly invited now and again.

I sit somewhere between the two Members whohave spoken on the European Union issue. Of the£100 billion that British taxpayers have paid to the EU
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since this Government have been in power, only a small proportion is relevant to the expansion of the EU. I think that all parties welcome the EU’s expansion.

We have, in Poland, an ally. We always talk about our special relationship with America, but we also have a special relationship with Poland. That is partly because of history, going back to the second world war, and partly because they share the same ideals and principles as us as a nation. They are hard-working, they believe in enterprise and they have a strong belief in their own national identity. However, they look outward on the rest of the world, they believe in free trade and they reject protectionism, and there is nothing that the so-called Franco-German axis can do about it.

The European Union is waking up to the idea that we should have an EU based on what the countries of the EU want, which is a single market and free trade, not protectionism and the protection of French farmers so that Africans lose out. We have common purpose with the Polish community and Poland.

The constituency situation that I want to raise is extraordinary, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help. I have not been able to find an answer to it through my inquiries with the Government so far. As we have heard, Polish people are allowed to work in this country. They have free access, and we were one of the few countries that granted it. In my constituency, most dentists, for whatever reason, have gone private. I have received a huge postbag from people complaining about it, but if one wants to find an NHS dentist in Wellingborough, one is sent outside the county. There is none available in my constituency.

A Dr. Chan, who is a leading dentist in Rushden, which is an important part of my constituency, rang me a while ago to say that he had a Polish dentist—fully qualified, with perfect English, so there was no problem on that ground—who wanted to work in Rushden under the NHS. It would have been of great benefit to my constituency, because a considerable number of people would have been able to get the NHS dentist treatment that they cannot get now. The primary care trust has refused to employ that dentist. I guess that it has done so on the ground of funding, but if all other NHS dentists have gone private, is there some way in which the Government can direct the PCT to employ a Polish dentist? It would help ease the dentistry burden in my constituency.

It seems that the rhetoric, which was discussed earlier, is not being realised in my constituency. There is a real issue, and I wonder whether the Minister could give any advice or help in his winding-up speech. In conclusion, it has been a great pleasure to sit in the Chamber under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson, and listen to two most powerful speeches.

3.24 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I cannot follow the powerful speeches that we have heard this afternoon, but it has been a great pleasure to listen to them, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing the debate.

In addition to the sentiments expressed this afternoon about the United Kingdom’s historical relationship with Poland, and about how Poland has
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changed its face with astonishing success—being first on one side of Europe and then the other after the fall of communism—I wish to speak about our present and future relations with Poland. First, however, I shall reflect briefly on the extraordinary journey that Poland has made, and the terrible events that have happened there, as has been underlined in two powerful speeches. Indeed, despite the UK’s experience of war during the 20th century, we would find it difficult fully to comprehend what happened in Poland.

My mother in law will later this year be the embodiment of the Polish congratulations song “Sto Lat!”—she will be 100 years old in the summer. She was born as a Russian subject, and she lived under occupation for the first part of the century. She became a Polish citizen in adulthood, and then again lived for seven or eight years under occupation. She arrived in the UK, having left Poland during the chaotic period immediately following the end of the second world war. She was welcomed to the UK as someone who had played a substantial role in her family and community, and she built a new life in the UK. She is now a UK citizen. Perhaps one person can encapsulate Poland’s experience; it is a personal reflection of the events about which we have heard this afternoon.

Thinking of past relations between the UK and Poland and about how Poles, at crucial junctures in UK history, have given freely of their lives with courage and commitment can assist us in putting that relationship into context, I was pleased to see Poland join the European Union in 2004. I attended a meeting in Wroclaw shortly after Poland joined the EU to discuss a number of issues about Poland’s future in Europe, and the lack of realisation among Poles about their country’s significance as an EU player surprised me. In fact, its weighted EU votes give Poland the same significance as Spain. It is a significant and large player.

Although I do not entirely go along with the suggestions of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham about the Franco-German axis, the way in which matters are discussed within the EU is changing rapidly, and one result of Poland’s accession is that those discussion and alliances will inevitably be different. Having a strong friend within those discussions and alliances will be important to us in making our way within the EU. Indeed, Poland is to start talks on joining the eurozone in 2009, so it might not only become the significant player that I have described but join the eurozone before the UK. One might perhaps reflect on that for future reference.

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